Arab Soccer in a Jewish State, the Integrative Enclave
by Tamir Sorek
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 239 pp. $91.
Reviewed by Sol Schindler
U.S. Foreign Service officer (ret.)
Middle East Quarterly
Sorek, an Israeli social scientist (as his prose can attest), finds in soccer a rich opportunity to study Arabs living and coping in the Jewish state. He calls the world of Israeli soccer an "integrative enclave" because it is free of the interethnic animosity he finds in so much of the rest of the country.
Soccer is immensely popular in Israel, just as it is in most of the world, and the Israeli government early on recognized the merits of sports programs for Arab youths as a vehicle for promoting the constructive integration of Arabs and Jews. Israel today is crisscrossed with leagues and teams, all of which enjoy fervent local support. The use of Arabs as starters on Israeli teams—some have even become stars—has had a social effect similar to that of lifting the color ban in American professional sports. The minority player gains self-confidence, considerably more money, and perhaps most important of all, the respect and admiration of the larger community, which itself learns a vital lesson in pluralism.
Perhaps the best example of the redemptive power of integrated soccer is one the author provides: In May 2003, Al-Aakhaa al-Nasira, the team from Nazareth, ascended to the Premier League for the first time in history. ‘Azmi Nassar, the team's coach, "climbed the fence to conduct the chorus of rejoicing supporters in the bleachers. In a hoarse Hebrew voice he said, ‘You see, this is how it should be—in soccer, as in life, on our team there are Muslims, Jews, Christians, Druze—there is no difference.'" These are noble words. But can we extend them beyond the soccer field?
The book is valuable when viewing Arab-Israeli relationships because it gives us a shining example of one success. Other successes come to mind, particularly in the entertainment industry, but one would have welcomed an appraisal of the impact of such cooperation on the country as a whole. Nevertheless, we should be happy that at least in one, albeit limited, area the subject has been explored extensively.
Related Topics: Israel & Zionism | Sol Schindler | Fall 2008 MEQ
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